How do the cities we live
in shape what we eat?

Being able to put healthy, nutritious food on the table, day after day, calls for a steady flow of cash into the household, which means having a job, a small business, or a social grant

Being able to put healthy, nutritious food on the table, day after day, calls for a steady flow of cash into the household, which means having a job, a small business, or a social grant

1 The Hungry Season

When a family goes hungry in the city, we often think this is because our farmers haven’t delivered enough food to the market. Or we see it as a failure of the person, which happens in the privacy of their own home and is their responsibility to solve. But if we want to fill the food gap in African cities, we must understand that many city dwellers are hungry because they are poor. And they’re poor because their food choices are shaped by powerful social, economic, political and geographical forces that operate at local, regional and global levels, all of which collide in their neighbourhoods as they try to put food on the table.

The hungry season for Mai Nyemba* (names have been changed) and her family usually comes in January and February each year. This is a tough financial time for most people: the excesses of the holiday season are over, budgets are thin, and then the high start-of-year expenses arrive. It is not called ‘Janu-worry’ for nothing.

This is also the rainy season in Zimbabwe, though, and can bring an occasional unexpected boon for Mai’s husband Munyaradzi. He is a self-employed panel beater and wet roads mean more traffic accidents, which bring a few extra repair jobs into his small shop in Epworth, just outside the capital, Harare.

But this didn’t help them out in January 2015, which was a particularly tough year, Mai told Amanda Dendera one winter’s day in June 2016. Dendera, a researcher with the Department of Geography and Environmental Sciences at the University of Zimbabwe, was visiting people in Epworth to gauge whether or not they had been able to feed their families in recent months, and, if not, why that had been the case.

“There was no food in the house at the time. I had to go to my cousin’s place here in Epworth and ask for food,” Mai told her, later admitting that she wasn’t on good terms with her family, which meant that asking them for help was difficult.

“She gave me two kilograms of rice, cooking oil, sugar and salt,” Mai recalled. “She didn’t expect me to pay it back though. This happened because Munyaradzi was not getting a lot of jobs, so our income was very low.”

Before she had their son, Mai had also been employed – she had a job at a tailor in nearby Msasa – and she and her husband had been able to buy everything they needed.

“But the problems started in 2012. Both of us were unemployed, and we had a new mouth to feed.”

Their situation became progressively worse until January 2015, when Mai had to beg for food from her relative.

When Dendera met Mai in 2016, the young family of three was living in a single rented room in a two-bedroomed house in Epworth. It was noon, and there was a shebeen across the road where a group of youngsters was knocking back a few chilly beers, and some young mothers were hanging about with their kids in tow. Dendera remembers how nervous they were when she wandered over to talk with them, thinking she might be an official who would shut down the illegal drinking hole. The vacant ground across the dirt road in front of Mai’s house was piled with garbage, since many locals use this site as an illegal rubbish dump.

When Mai described her family’s situation, it seemed that things were alright for the moment; it had been several months since the hungry season had visited their home. Her husband was earning an income, and their young son was at a nearby crèche where the children were being fed two meals a day.

The notion of the ‘hungry season’ comes from an era when society was mostly agricultural and living primarily off the land. If the previous year’s yield had been abundant, and this year’s harvest had come in on time, then a small farming community would have plenty of food in their pantries. There would be no lean period between the previous harvest running out and the current year’s harvest coming in from the fields. But if the previous year’s crop had been poor, or this year’s rains arrived late, food stocks would run low and the lean season might stretch on for weeks as people waited for their crops to ripen.

The reality is that by 2030, half of Africa’s people will be living in cities and will no longer be at the immediate mercy of the types of natural events that bring the hungry season to rural farming families. City dwellers live in an environment where the modern food system keeps a steady flow of calories moving into their neighbourhoods most of the time.

The hungry season nevertheless still stalks many homes, only it comes at different times, and for different reasons. Understanding the new and varied forces that bring lean times to city-living families is key if we are to fill the hunger gap in our fast-growing cities.

“But how does a diet that’s low in diverse, healthy, nutritious foods keep people shackled in their poverty? For babies, a shortage of proper nutrition can shadow them for the rest of their lives”

This is what Dendera was trying to understand when she sat in Mai’s rented room and asked her if her family had gone hungry in the previous year. Dendera was doing this study as part of the Consuming Urban Poverty (CUP) collaboration, which saw teams of researchers visit Epworth in Zimbabwe, Kitwe in Zambia and Kisumu in Kenya in 2016 to better understand the link between food, hunger, and poverty in the city context.

Since most of southern Africa’s urbanisation and growth are expected to take place in ‘secondary’ cities just like these, where the population might range from about 100 000 up to several million (the city’s economy might also amount to between 10% and 50% of the largest city in that country), this is where most countries’ development challenges will be concentrated in coming decades.

Through the lens of food and hunger, the CUP researchers are now able to show how the notion of the hungry season is helpful in understanding the complex nature of poverty in Africa’s cities.

Poverty drives hunger; hunger drives poverty

January is also a lean time for widow Anesu Mukwanda* and her nine dependents – five of her own children and four of her late sister’s – mostly because of school fees. She lives in Kitwe, Zambia, and, like so many of the people that the CUP researchers spoke with during their field work, hers is a story about the daily grind of tradeoffs in a cash-strapped home: should she spend what little money she has on food for the family today, or should she pay the school fees, knowing that educating her children is a form of insurance against hunger? After all, an educated child will eventually be able to find a job and support the family.

This is the reality of the new hungry season for many in Africa. There may be plenty of food in circulation in the modern city, but is it diverse, nutritious and safe to eat? Do people have access to it? Being able to put healthy, nutritious food on the table, day after day, calls for a steady flow of cash into the household, which means having a job, a small business, or a social grant. Anything that pinches off that regular cash flow will bring its own unique hungry season.

The Lived Poverty Index (LPI) is one of the yardsticks that the CUP researchers used to measure the extent of poverty among the people they interviewed. This is an approach that asks participants to reflect on how often they have gone without the basics during the preceding year. Did they have enough food? What about fuel for cooking, or energy for lighting and other household needs? Did they have water in the home? How about adequate healthcare when they needed it? What was their overall income during this time?

When the researchers put these questions to their study participants, they found that the day-to-day experience of most families who live this close to the breadline on a limited, often unreliable budget, is one where survival means a constant series of rational, calculated trade-offs. They must split what little cash they have between the rent, electricity, or slightly cheaper charcoal or paraffin, water, school fees, and food.

By bringing the LPI number together with a few other tools that are used to measure overall household poverty – the Food and Nutrition Technical Assistance (FANTA) food security indicators, including the Household Food Insecurity Access Prevalence (HFIAP) indicator, the Months of Adequate Household Food Provisioning (MAHFP) indicator, and the Household Dietary Diversity Score (HDDS) – they were able to get a sense of how well resourced families were, what services they had in their homes, how much food they had, how nutritious it was, and ultimately how food secure these families were.

The headline figures look like this: in Kisumu, Kenya, 71% of households were ‘moderately or severely food insecure’; in Epworth, Zimbabwe, the figure was 88%; and in Kitwe, Zambia, where they studied just two low-income neighbourhoods, the number was 90%.

But what does this actually mean?

Although each study city had its own unique story to tell about the extent of the localised struggles of poorer families, overall, the researchers found many similar threads emerging in each city.

The following snapshot from Kisumu shows the many facets of poverty and demonstrates how, ultimately, poverty expresses itself in terms of food. More than half (53%) of everyone surveyed had not had enough food at home at some point during the preceding year. Two thirds (65%) of families had not had a cash income during that time, which researchers say shows the strong ties between income and the drain of other household expenses. Some 57% of people had not had enough water for home use; about half had not had enough fuel for cooking their food, and about half weren’t able to access medicine or medical treatment.

This illustrates the extent to which ‘food poverty’ is linked to many different factors, says Dr Jane Battersby, lead researcher on the CUP project. Whether or not a family has access to water and sanitation at home, or whether they have a fridge or some other kind of temperature-stable storage for food, determines their level of food poverty. It is also shaped by spatial issues, such as the distance a family must travel to reach the shops or public transport, or how far they live from places of possible employment. The makeup of the household also factors here, such as how many generations live under one roof, and whether the family is headed up by a double-income married couple, or if the burden falls squarely on a single mother. Access to the support of community networks, such as a church or a community saving scheme, also plays a role, as does the extent to which the family has a sense of agency and is free to make its own choices.

The battle that comes with having too little of everything – money, transport, wholesome and affordable food, cooking fuel or electricity, water, kitchen appliances, safe storage and a clean kitchen – means a constant juggle to meet the costs of everyday life. As many of the interviews showed, when a little cash has to go a long way, food doesn’t always take priority. When some other day-to-day demand eats into a family’s limited cash reserves, they all too often choose to cut back on healthy food like meat or vegetables, opting rather to buy the cheapest and most filling foods that settle the immediate discomfort of hunger, but don’t necessarily give them good longer-term nutrition.

A family’s ability to get food is tied up with whether or not they have some kind of an income, either through wage-earning work, or some other survival strategy. And their ability to find work, or an alternative livelihood or income, is directly linked to the wider social conditions in their city and region. In Kitwe, for instance, the collapse of the mining has caused widespread job losses, shrinking household incomes dramatically. As a result, people are finding it harder to access the food that seems abundant all around them.

In this kind of precarious urban existence, where a lean budget keeps a chokehold on people, a regular wage earner may start the month well with plenty of food in the house, but will feel the pinch of the hungry season in the run-up to the next payday. A piecemeal labourer will have long, lean times between jobs and won’t be able to plan well since he may not know when he’ll be able to earn again. He might resort to other ways of finding food during the hungry season, either by borrowing or begging from neighbours, or hoping for church donations. Many families admit to eating only two meals a day when things are tight, choosing to skip breakfast in favour of lunch and dinner.

The stories from Kitwe, Kisumu and Epworth show how a shortage of food in the home is a mark of poverty, but also how a shortage of food drives that very poverty.

The poverty-hunger feedback loop is fairly intuitive: filling the food gap isn’t just about having enough calories on a day-to-day basis, it’s about having enough wholesome, nutritious calories that allow a person’s brain and body to function at their best. When cash runs low, people choose cheaper foods that are often sugary, starchy staples that quiet the immediate discomfort of an aching, empty belly, but have little nutritional value: bulky rice or maize meal instead of protein-rich meat, for instance, and fewer fresh vegetables (see A staple diet is not a stable diet).

When people don’t have a way to cook food easily or cheaply, they may choose foods that don’t need much cooking time, which might mean choosing ultra-processed and nutritionally dead options: two-minute noodles, for instance, over a more nutritious samp-and-beans meal.

Poorer families, like many encountered through this research, are not only cash-strapped, they also don’t have good service delivery from their city. Without electricity and water at home, people can’t refrigerate their foods or keep their kitchens clean and hygienic. They might therefore be more likely to buy food that doesn’t perish as quickly, which is also likely to be processed and shelf-stable – maize meal or rice, for instance, instead of chicken.

‘Asset poverty’ – not having a fridge or safe storage – means people have to visit their local shops more often because they can’t buy in bulk and freeze certain foods. This means they’re dependent on local informal traders who operate within walking distance of their homes. These traders often sell cheaper foods in smaller, more affordable volumes, compared with the produce at larger supermarkets.

Informal traders are limited by the same market forces that tighten their customers’ budgets, and traders’ own lack of basic municipal services such as water and electricity to clean and power their stalls means they tend to sell a limited range of foods. This can create a type of food ‘desert’ where there is not much affordable, healthy food within walking distance of people’s homes. When the range of available food shrinks in this way, it can have serious health implications.

“This vicious cycle reinforces the limited dietary diversity,” write Zimbabweans Dr Godfrey Tawodzera and Dr Easther Chigumira, who headed up the Epworth research team. “It raises concerns about the current food poverty in people’s homes, as well as the potential future implications of diseases associated with narrow diets, and the future costs of those diseases for a population that is poor and unable to deal with the consequences.”

But how does a diet that’s low in diverse, healthy, nutritious foods keep people shackled in their poverty?

For babies, a shortage of proper nutrition can shadow them for the rest of their lives. The first 1 000 days of a child’s life – from the moment of conception, until he or she reaches about two years of age – is when most of their brain development happens. Without the right vitamins and minerals in this time, for the mother while the child is in utero and during breastfeeding, and for the child after weaning, the brain won’t grow to its full potential and will always remain underdeveloped. No amount of good nutrition later in life will repair the physical and cognitive stunting to the brain. The child will end up with a lower IQ than he or she had the potential to achieve, will do less well in school, and will also be less employable as an adult. The upshot of this kind of early childhood undernutrition, according to The World Bank, is that it can reduce a person’s earning potential by as much as 10% through the course of their life. This will have implications for their ability to provide for their own family one day.

The second burden on the poor that’s associated with this narrow diet is the financial drain on a family that has to bear the burden of the illnesses that result from these two kinds of malnutrition. Undernutrition from a chronic shortage of vitamins and minerals results in general physical and brain stunting, a compromised immune system, cognitive underdevelopment, anaemia, fatigue, depression, or osteoporosis, depending on what nutrients are missing from the diet.

But being dependent on a diet of cheap, highly processed, energy-dense foods that are largely nutritionally dead also results in weight gain and obesity, as well as a range of chronic diseases – heart disease, certain cancers, and diabetes and its associated illnesses, for instance – that are a huge drain on a family as they lose productive work days while they treat their illnesses. (See Chapter 2: Big is Beautiful, for more on the financial implications for families that struggle with the diseases associated with obesity.)

Women at the helm: we’re buying, not farming

Another hungry time for Anesu Mukwanda, the widow from Kitwe, is on Sunday mornings. After her husband’s passing, she started to earn a living by selling vegetables at a local market. She has put some of her monthly income from these sales into a community savings scheme with her fellow traders, and she’s built good relationships with the farmers who supply her with produce in case she ever has to buy any on credit. These are some of the ways in which she spreads the risk of having a precarious, fluctuating income.

Selling vegetables as an informal trader is how Anesu makes a living, and it’s also how she sources food for her family. So, on Sundays, when farmers take the day off and don’t come to market, her family generally goes hungry.

Anesu’s story adds another glimpse into the complex relationship between social and market forces that shape whether a family like hers has food on the table or not. In the urban African context, food still remains largely the domain of women, who tend to spend more of the household budget on food than men do, and tend to share it more fairly. But if accessing the urban food system is dependent on having cash from either a job, a small business, or a social grant, this means that women need to be able to operate within this system if they’re going to be able to take food home to their families.

City-living women like Anesu are more than mere consumers at the tail-end of the food value chain. Food retailing is an important livelihood strategy for them, and they are pillars of this sector in African cities. In Kisumu, more than two thirds of food retailers are women (about 70%). In Kitwe, it’s more than half (58%). In Epworth, 64% of the traders are women. (See Chapter 3: Cinderella Markets, for more on the importance of the informal sector.)

The community-level surveys done by the CUP researchers confirm that city dwellers aren’t producing their own food, and generally this is because they can’t, not because they don’t want to. In Kisumu, for instance, only 1% of families said they grow their own food, while 3% said they get food from livestock that they own. When they explained why they don’t grow or rear their own food, some said it is because they don’t have access to land within the limits of the city that they can use to farm. Others said they aren’t producing their own food because it’s easier to buy food than to grow it. Some said that they don’t have time to farm. Others said that it’s too risky, and people often steal it.

The solution to filling the food gap in these city contexts isn’t for city managers to merely give people access to land and promote urban agriculture, the CUP researchers agree. This could be part of the solution, but not one that policymakers should lean on too heavily.

Lower-income families shop with many different kinds of retailers, both formal and informal. The layout of the city also impacts on people’s ability to move about, get to work, and do their grocery shopping. In light of this, policymakers can address food poverty more effectively with policies that support formal and informal food retail markets, both as providers of jobs and as a source of food. Policies and planning should also support food retailing in places where there is plenty of foot traffic, such as around public transport hubs. The city also has an obligation to roll out reliable and fair municipal services to traders and to poorer households. (See Chapter 3: Cinderella Markets, and Chapter 6: White Elephant.)

When someone has no money to buy food, though, they tend to fall back on older, more traditional ways of getting by. They might barter, or borrow. But borrowing money or food with the promise that they will repay the loan once they’re flush again, is risky. Many of the people who shared their stories with the CUP team admitted that they do sometimes approach neighbours, friends, or family members during a hungry season, but they’re careful not to do this too often for fear of straining relationships.

When Dendera spoke with Tafadzwa Mangezi* during her visit to Epworth in June 2016, Tafadzwa said that she and her family had gone to bed hungry the night before. When it came to breakfast that day, well, she said, “nothing so far”. Her plan was to have some roasted soya beans for lunch once the interview was over, she said. When asked about borrowing food or money to buy food, Tafadzwa was emphatic. “No, I’m scared of borrowing because I don’t want to owe people, I have no way to ensure repayment,” she told Dendera. “I don’t want bad blood with my neighbours. As it is, I’m having trouble with a local money-lender. We borrowed 40 dollars (Zimbabwean) from him for bus fare so that my husband could go to work. But my husband hasn’t been paid for the job, so I haven’t been able to pay the money back, and the interest rate is 50%. The money-lender has threatened to get his money by violence.”

Being free from hunger is not the same as being food secure, something which the global development community is starting to articulate more clearly.

Food security, the United Nations now says, isn’t about people just taking in enough calories, which really only addresses immediate hunger and the pain of an empty belly. Rather, food security is about people having sustained access to a nutritious diet for their optimum health. This phrasing is significant, because it acknowledges the complexity of the relationship between food and poverty, say Dr Jane Battersby and Prof Vanessa Watson, lead researchers on the CUP project. This way of reframing the issue moves away from seeing hunger as an indicator of poverty, and rather considers how the lack of ongoing access to a nutritious diet is a driver of poverty.

It is well documented that a chronic lack of food and adequate nutrition can impact on a person’s physical, social, emotional and cognitive development throughout their life, the CUP researchers write in their findings, which highlights the need for ongoing, sustained good nutrition if a country hopes to grapple with poverty and development challenges.

Bringing the issues of urban development and poverty together with hunger and food insecurity, in order to govern cities in a way that leads to sustainable growth and the eradication of poverty, calls for a deep understanding of the complexity of the food system and how these intersect in the city context.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations in a report produced by its expert panel on food losses and waste, a food system “gathers all the elements (environment, people, inputs, processes, infrastructures, institutions, etc.) and activities that relate to the production, processing, distribution, preparation and consumption of food, and the outputs of these activities, including socio-economic and environmental outcomes”. This makes a connection between food security, the food system, and the “wider set of systems in which food operates”.

What is hunger? Reframing an old problem

The dynamics of growth and urbanisation in Africa’s bigger cities have been relatively well documented.

What is happening in smaller cities, however, is not as clearly understood. Yet this is where most of Africa’s growth is going to take place in coming decades. According to the United Nations’ 2015 estimate of urbanisation trends in World Urbanisation Prospects, by 2014 half of the world’s combined urban population lived in cities where the populations are fewer than half a million; by 2030, most of the world’s city-dwelling population is expected to be in cities that have a population of up to a million people. Most of the fastest-growing cities in the world will be cities that are this size, and are in Africa and Asia, write Dr Muna Shifa and Dr Jacqueline Borel-Saladin in the CUP book Urban Food Systems Governance and Poverty in African Cities.

This means that these cities will become development hubs: it’s where a concentration of the region’s development challenges are to be found, but also where some of the greatest opportunities lie. Secondary cities –where the population is usually between about 100 000 and up to several million – have the potential for urban growth that is inclusive and can tackle poverty issues.

But the dynamics of these smaller cities are still not well known. It’s clear that service delivery is worse in smaller municipalities than in larger urban centres, and there is generally a higher rate of poverty and infant and child mortality, according to Shifa and Borel-Saladin.

The take-home message for urban planners is that it is not enough to hope that economic growth alone will address poverty in these cities, particularly where there is higher inequality, which stifles the “poverty reducing effect of economic growth”. The state must proactively plan for, and invest in, infrastructure and job creation so that it can harness this rapid urbanisation for positive urban development that creates sustainable cities.

Smaller cities are development hubs

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations says a country, community or household is food secure when “all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”. This rests on four pillars. Food must be:

1. Available

There needs to be plenty of food coming into the food system, either from sufficient yields from farmers, or through imports or food aid. It must also be good-quality food. An ample plateful of maize-meal porridge or rice might be filling, but it’s not a diverse or nutritious meal if it doesn’t include vegetables, healthy fats, and unprocessed proteins.

2. Accessible

As very few people are able to grow their own food, particularly in congested city environments, they must have cash to buy it. This means having a job, small business, or social grant. Other ways of tapping into the food system might be through borrowing food from neighbours or receiving donations from church groups or civil society organisations. People often have complex social, legal, political, or economic strategies for making sure they can put food on the table.

3. Usable

People must be able to use the food in a way that’s culturally appropriate, and ensure that their food is nutritious, clean and safe (meaning that they have clean water and a sanitary kitchen) so that they can be in a state of nutritional wellbeing.

4. Stable

They must be able to access this type of food constantly and not go hungry because of a sudden economic or environmental shock. A shock could come in the shape of a region-wide drought that knocks farmers’ yields, reducing staple food supply across the region and pushing up prices; or it could be a household-level shock when a family member loses a job, or becomes ill and cannot work. Food prices in African cities are about 35% higher than in other low- and middle-income countries, according to a 2017 World Bank report, which has a huge impact on household budgets and food buying choices.

5. Agency

Canadian economist Prof Cecilia Rocha adds another factor, which she calls ‘agency’. When a person has some level of control in their lives, or the extent to which they can make their own choices or act independently in their family or community, this also influences whether or not they are food secure. Gender, social class, ethnicity, employment status or level of education could influence an individual’s level of agency, and these are factors that are often linked to wider structural issues in society.

Four (+one) pillars of food security

When Mai nyemba* from Epworth, Zimbabwe, does her grocery shopping, her only concern is whether the food will “fill the tummy”. “I don’t even think about the health benefits,” she says, prompted by CUP researcher Amanda Dendera who wanted to know why Mai shops as she does for food. Most days, the meals Mai prepares for her family of three – herself, her husband and her little boy – are largely made up of starches: sadza (a stiff porridge made from maize meal); sweet potatoes; rice. She might add a spoon or two of relish or a gravy, and if they are a bit flush that day, she might even cook some chicken cuts, or beef, but that usually only happens once a week. The budget meat options, when things are tighter, will be chicken offal or heads or feet, or kapenta, a silvery freshwater fish that looks like sardines.

These carbohydrate-heavy staples may ease the discomfort of an empty belly, but may not necessarily provide the vitamins and minerals necessary for long-term nourishment and health.

This kind of dietary paring down is typical of families with limited and erratic cash flow. They rely on cheap, often highly refined carbohydrates that have a long shelf-life, and bulk up into a substantial volume of food, but will often cut back on the diversity of fresh foods – vegetables, healthy fats and proteins – that give a richer range of nutrients.

Being free from hunger is not the same as being food secure, something that many policymakers don't realise (see What is hunger? reframing an old problem). The upshot of this way of thinking is that food-security policies may focus on keeping an ample, reliable supply of a staple crop such as maize in circulation, while ignoring non-staple crop production and supply.

Zambia’s national food policy has privileged the production and distribution of maize at the expense of non-staples, say Dr Issahaka Fuseini and Prof Owen Sichone in Urban Food Systems Governance and Poverty in African Cities. The result is that non-staples such as vegetables and meat are expensive, often because local production is more costly, and not competitive relative to imported foods. “This constant supply of maize provides a veneer of food security, but masks significant nutritional deficiencies,” write Fuseini and Sichone. Even though the country had a surplus of maize at the time of their research in Kitwe, it didn't solve the bigger food crisis that families were facing at the time, many reporting having a diet with little diversity in the several months leading up to the researchers’ visit.

A staple diet is not a stable diet

In the past century, agricultural policies in the United States have been geared towards protecting farmers’ interests. This resulted in a set of dietary guidelines that are not based on good nutritional science, but were designed to secure a market for farmers’ overproduction of staple foods and boost food-industry profits. The result is nearly a century of state- endorsed dietary guidelines that have been exported from the United States and are ultimately driving the obesity pandemic around the world.

Since the 1930s, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has pushed a set of policies that protect farmers’ interests by subsidising certain staple crops, particularly corn, soya, rice, and wheat. Industrial food processing provided the ideal market for the glut in these mostly cereal crops. But in order to grow the market on the consumer end of the value chain, the USDA and the food industry needed to convince Americans to eat more carbohydrate-based foods.

The result is that the USDA designed a set of state-endorsed dietary guidelines, heavily influenced by the lobbying interests of Big Food. These guidelines ultimately evolved into to- day’s ‘food pyramid’, which instructs people that a ‘healthy’ diet is one that is made up mostly of carbohydrates, followed in decreasing portion sizes by vegetables, then meat, and even less fat. This is the so-called ‘Western diet’ that has been exported to much of the rest of the world.

“There are many examples of how national and global food security and research has overwhelmingly focused on the production of grain,” says CUP lead researcher Dr Jane Battersby. “There is a juggernaut of science and donor funding that contributes towards policies and farmer production practices that ultimately narrow the set of foods available to us, which feeds into the dietary norms that we see around us today.”

USA farmer protectionism drives global obesity pandemic
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